Brain Bulimia

Bulimia is destroying lives.

That is what inspired my philosophy on Technology Education. I was deeply concerned about this disorder and wanted to make a difference in the lives of the millions of students it affects every year. This is difficult because few people know that this disorder exists.

You’re probably quite puzzled right now, wondering what bulimia has to do with Technology Education and how this disorder could have influenced my educational philosophy. You’re probably also thinking that I must be living in some Amish community without technology to believe that few people know about bulimia. But I am speaking about a special kind of bulimia…

 

Brain Bulimia.

 

Unlike the related eating disorder, this disorder is a learned behavior. After years of being subjected to “educational” environments where nothing is expected beyond rote memorization and participation in repetitive “academic” exercises- students develop a condition where it is difficult to think a new thought. The repeated process of receiving the information from the teacher, holding it in until Friday’s test, and regurgitating that information back to the teacher creates a condition similar to that of Pavlov’s dog. The bell is the question on the test. The conditioned response is the answer. The deceiving thing is that since the student is giving an answer to a question, it is believed that the student thought about the question and gave an answer. But due to years of rote memorization and repetitive exercises, the answer is nothing more than mental salivation… It takes as much thought as it takes to have your mouth water when you hear that school bell ring for lunch. (Maybe that’s not the best illustration…)

But I believe that there is an answer. It’s very simple. It is the Philosophy and Mission in my classroom. It is the promise that I give to my students that if they can do this one thing, they will be met with success in their careers and lives. It’s developing “Ownership.”

No one washes and waxes a rental car. That’s because they don’t own it. They know that at the end of the day it will be returned and they’ll never drive it again. In the same way, students don’t value “rental knowledge.” Students want to own their knowledge! Young people today are too often only “loaned” knowledge. They borrow information from the instructor until the test, when all the information is returned to its original owner. I believe that with the right approach and right atmosphere, students will crave new knowledge. To give my students the deed to their own learning, I tell my students that there are only three things that they have to do to be successful in life: Learn, Think, and Do. My entire course is the repeated process of these 3 steps.

First, the students must be able to learn. Too often, students have not been given the opportunity to learn. They have always been spoon-fed the answers, never left to investigate, research, or examine. Their minds have atrophied with neglect. Like hand-fed tigers they have lost the will and ability to hunt for answers. Stop spoon-feeding a young person’s mind and let them hunt for their own knowledge, their minds will race for those elusive answers!  The resources in my classroom are strictly “real-world” resources. We use the Internet, training materials for industry, or “off the shelf” books from the local bookstore. There are no “educational” textbooks or “activity binders” in my lab. We use the same references for research that are found on the shelves of the Miami Herald newspaper or Motorola Corporation. Students are not spoon-fed the information they need in a handout or shown how to do something on videotape. As is the real world of industry, they are given a project with a deadline, and access to resources with all the necessary information to complete the project. They must unearth the knowledge with their own hands. What makes my classroom unique is that students don’t simply receive, but find their knowledge. Students actively participate in their own learning.

Students in my class must also think. Too often, students are not asked to think for themselves. We do all the thinking and just tell them what to know. They are masters at memorization and experts in repeating exercises, but they have never been challenged to think… to come up with their own answer. They do not understand why the answers are right or how the principle works, they just know that these are the answers and principles they have to know. In my classroom, students have to think. They aren’t given answers to remember, but questions to answer. They must find the answer themselves. What makes my classroom unique is that I do not give students answers I’ve gained from my own experiences… I give students experiences so they can develop their own answers.

The third important ingredient in my class is to simply “do.” Confucius said, “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”  (And Yoda said “Do or do not… there is no try.”) Modern research indicates that people recall only 30% of what they hear, but 90% of what they experience. Students in my class don’t hear a lecture about the Internet; they create a twenty-one page digital portfolio on the Internet using Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe Photoshop. Students do not watch a movie about Designing a Magazine Ad; they shoot their own pictures in RAW, import them to Photoshop, and develop the full ad in InDesign. Students in my classroom do not learn about how movies are made, they shoot their own video, tweak the sound, write the script, and produce it in HD for DVD or internet distribution. What makes my classroom unique is not so much that my students do these things, but that they do these things on their own. Real-world tools used in a real-world way, learned with real-world materials- and in the end, students have real-world knowledge.

What makes my class innovative and unique is that I focus less on teaching, and more on learning. I give the students the freedom to learn on their own, think for themselves, and do something with this new knowledge that matters to them.

Give a kid the freedom to explore his or her own learning, and you won’t be battling their resistance to explore what you’re pushing on them to learn. You’ll be trying to keep up with how far they want to take it all.

 

“Teach a man to fish…” the saying goes.

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